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Lords of the World by  Alfred J. Church

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SCIPIO

THE old king's body was roughly embalmed, in order to give some time before the celebration of the funeral. This was a more splendid and impressive ceremony than had ever been witnessed in that region. The news of Masinissa's death had been carried far into the interior with that strange, almost incredible rapidity with which great tidings commonly travel in countries that have no regular means of communication. The old man had been one of the most prominent figures in Northern Africa for a space more than equal to an ordinary lifetime. Nor had he been one of the rulers who shut themselves [42] up in their palaces, and are known, not in their persons, but by their acts. His long life had been spent, one might say, in the saddle. There was not a chief in the whole region that had not met him, either as friend or as foe. Many had heard from their fathers or grandfathers the traditions of his craft as a ruler and his prowess as a warrior, and now they came in throngs to pay him the last honours. From the slopes of the Atlas range far to the west, and from the south as far as the edge of what is now called the Algerian Sahara, came the desert chiefs, some of them men who had never been seen within the walls of a city. For that day, at least, were suspended all the feuds of the country, many and deadly as they were. It was the greatest, as it was the last honour that could be paid to the great chief who had done so much to join these warring atoms into a harmonious whole.

The bier was carried by representatives of the states which had owned the late king's sway. Behind it walked his three sons; these again were followed by the splendid array of the war-elephants with their gorgeous trappings. The wise beasts, whom the degenerate successors of the old African races have never been able to tame, seemed to feel the nature of the occasion, and walked with slow [43] step and downcast mien. Behind the elephants came rank after rank what seemed an almost interminable cavalcade of horsemen. The procession was finished by detachments of Roman troops, both infantry and cavalry, a striking contrast, with their regular equipment and discipline, to the wild riders from the plains and hills of the interior.

The funeral over, there was a great banquet, a scene of wild and uproarious festivity—a not unnatural reaction from the enforced gravity of the morning's proceedings. Cleanor, who had the sober habits which belonged to the best type of Greeks, took the first opportunity that courtesy allowed of withdrawing from the revel.

He made his way to a secluded spot which he had discovered in the wild garden or park attached to the palace, and threw himself down on the turf, near a little waterfall. The fatigues of the day, for he had taken a great part in the ordering of the morning's ceremonial, and the exhausting heat of the banqueting hall had predisposed him to sleep, and the lulling murmur of the water completed the charm.

When he awoke, he found that he was no longer alone. A stranger in Roman dress was standing by, and looking down upon him with a kindly smile. When the young Greek had collected his thoughts, he remembered that he had already seen [44] and been impressed by the new-corner's features and bearing. Then it dawned upon him that he was the officer in command of the detachment of Roman soldiers that had been present at the obsequies of the king.

And, indeed, the man was not one to be hastily passed over, or lightly forgotten. In the full vigour of manhood—he was just about to complete his thirty-seventh year—he presented a rare combination of strength and refinement. His face had the regularity and fine chiseling of the Greek type, the nose, however, having something of the aquiline form, which is so often one of the outward characteristics of military genius. The beauty of the features was set off by the absence of moustache and beard, a fashion then making its way in Italy, but still uncommon elsewhere. To the Greek it at once suggested the familiar artistic conception of the beardless Apollo.

But the eyes were the most remarkable feature of the face. They expressed with a rare force, as the occasion demanded, kindliness, a penetrating intelligence, or a righteous indignation against evil. But over and above these expressions, they had from time to time a look of inspiration. They seemed to see something that was outside and beyond mortal limits. In after years it was often said of Scipio—my readers will have guessed that I am speaking of [45] Scipio—that he talked with the gods. Ordinary observers did not perceive, or did not understand it. To a keen and sensitive nature, such as Cleanor's, it appealed with a force that may almost be called irresistible. All this did not reveal itself immediately to the young man, but he felt at once, as no one ever failed to feel, the inexplicable charm of Scipio's personality.

"So you too," said the Roman, "have escaped from the revelers?"

Cleanor made a movement as if to rise.

"Nay," said the other, "do not disturb yourself. Let me find a place by you;" and he seated himself on the grass. "What a home for a naiad is this charming little spring! But you will say that a Roman has no business to be talking of naiads. It is true, perhaps. Our hills, our streams, our oaks have no such presences in them. We have borrowed them from you. Our deities are practical. We have a goddess that makes the butter to come in the churn, curdles the milk for the cheese, and helps the cow to calve. There is not a function or an employment that has not got its patron or patroness. But we have not peopled the world of nature with the gracious and beautiful presences which your poets have imagined. Nor, I fancy," he added with a smile, "have your African friends done so."

Cleanor, who would in any case have been too [46] courteous to show to a casual stranger the hostility which he cherished against the Roman nation, felt at once the charm of the speaker's manner. He was struck, too, by the purity of the Roman's Greek accent, and by the elegance of his language, with which no fault could have been found except, perhaps, that it was more literary than colloquial. He laughingly acknowledged the compliment which the Roman had paid to the poetical genius of his countrymen.

A brisk conversation on literary topics followed. Cleanor, who was of a studious turn, had spent a year at Athens, listening to the philosophical teachers who were the successors of Plato at the Academy, and another year at Rhodes, then the most famous rhetorical school in the world. Scipio, on the other hand, was one of the best-read men of his age. He was a soldier and a politician, and had distinguished himself in both capacities, but his heart was given to letters. In private life he surrounded himself with the best representatives of Greek and Roman culture. He now found in the young Greek, with whose melancholy history he was acquainted, a congenial spirit. Cleanor, on the other hand, who had something of the Greek's readiness to look down upon all outsiders as barbarians, was astonished to see how wide and how deep were the attainments of his new acquaintance.

[47] The two thus brought together had many opportunities of improving the acquaintance thus begun. Scipio had to carry out the details of the division of royal functions mentioned in my last chapter. This was not a thing to be done in a day. The three brothers accepted the principle readily enough, though they felt that the one to whom the army had been allotted had the lion's share of power. But when the principles came to be applied there were endless jealousies and differences of opinion. It required all Scipio's tact and personal influence to keep the peace unbroken.

When this complicated business was finished, or at least put in a fair way of being finished, an untoward event cut short Scipio's sojourn in Africa. Two new commanders came out to take charge of the Roman army before Carthage. Scipio knew them to be rash and incompetent, and was unwilling to incur the responsibility of serving under them. Accordingly he asked for permission to resign his command—he held the rank of tribune. The consuls, on the other hand, were not a little jealous of their subordinate's reputation and, above all, of his name. A Scipio at Carthage had a prestige which no one else could hope to rival, and they were glad to get rid of him.

[48] This interruption of an acquaintance which was rapidly ripening into friendship had an important bearing on Cleanor's life. If anyone could have reconciled him to Rome, Scipio was the man. Scipio gone, the old feelings, only too well justified as they were, revived in full force. Hostility to Rome became, indeed, the absorbing passion of his life. It was a passion, however, which he concealed with the finesse natural to his race. For the present his purpose could, he conceived, be better served outside the walls of Carthage than within them. Accordingly he accepted an offer from Mastanabal that he should undertake the duties of a private secretary.


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